On Sunday, we celebrated the completion of another year of Sunday School. At the close of worship, we invited teachers, Faith Nurture Team, and leaders up front. As a community, we thanked them for their passion and their commitment to faith formation in the lives of our children. Afterward, there was an ice-cream social in the Fellowship Hall to round out the festivities.
As a pastor, it is a joy to see the excitement in the faces of children and adults alike. Something very good is happening at St. James in the area of children's ministry. There is a vibrancy that is taking place among families in the sharing of faith across the generations.
But isn't this the smallest Sunday School that St. James has seen in thirty years? Aren't we in decline? Shouldn't we be concerned about what is happening/not happening?
Although it may be the smallest Sunday School that St. James has had in awhile - this ministry is NOT in decline.
Looking beyond the numbers we see a greater engagement of families in the passing on of the faith. This critical growth can not be understated. What is more, families are present in worship. It used to be true that a large percentage of children (and some adult teachers) were "drop-offs"; they came for the Sunday School hour alone. When some children got to confirmation age they didn't have the experience of regular worship. It is no wonder that they didn't stay involved after confirmation.
Worshiping as a family and then going to Sunday School is now the dominant pattern at St. James. Children are now actively engaged in worship every week (noisy offerings and processions for the littlest, reading prayers and serving communion for the biggest). This is making a difference.
Studies show (e.g. Pew Research periodically does one) that if families are involved in worship then children are more likely to be engaged as adults.
Thinking back, this was true for me. My parents took me to worship and Sunday School each week. It happened at a tiny Lutheran church on a busy corner of bustling city street. The church didn't offer any fancy programs - just Sunday School and a VBS in the summer. The strength of that ministry was found not in programs but in people and the relationships that were forged each week. As a family, we worshiped together and then we kids went to Sunday school after. It was a wonderful relational environment of nurture. I was known and loved by caring adults (my parents and the many adults who knew my name).
Quality not quantity. People not programs. This is the path of growth and vitality that we find ourselves on at St. James. Over time our reputation as a relational community that really cares for the person (where names are known) will grow and attract others. These things take perseverance and patience. But even if our numbers don't increase, the goal is not to be found in increased numbers but rather in increased faithfulness. We are not a Walmart where volume reigns. We are a church were love reigns in friendships and relationships.
So thank you Sunday School teachers and parents for your engagement and participation in the faith life of our kids. I would be remiss if I didn't list your names:
Teachers - Jeni Wojahn; Konrad Gastony; Kaia Gastony; Jennifer Corcoran; Amy Shero; Doug Lundstrom; Bethany Jarvis; Ben Tressel; Allyson Tressel; Zoe Tressel; Jack Tressel; Emily Lawrence; Ainsley Fuerst.
Faith Nuture Team - Jeni Wojahn; Jill Bell; Christina Schaaf; Jennifer Corcoran; and Seminarian Sherri Lawrence (Faith Nuture Team staff leader).
Music - Barbara Kleinfeldt.
Your work is planting important seeds in a soil that is not only fertile but also has the highest likelihood of success for long term growth. For the children. Yes. For our community as well.